29th June 2024

“Pearlised” buttons

These designs also are found without fish essence coating, and with out diamentes ot painted detailing.

Imitation pearls were made from Roman times. At some stage fish scale essence (also called pearl essence) started to be used, possibly before the mid 15th century.

Sunday Times (Perth), 8th December 1946 p.6

Popular Science Monthly, May 1896, pages 397-8.

Despite the above articles, it has also been claimed Jacquin patented the process in 1846, and it is actually more fitting to say that he “re-discovered the potential of fish-scales” (Light as Matter https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-023-01854-0).

Much later on in the 1920s it was used in nail-polish, then later again in other cosmetics.

Imitation pearl buttons were advertised from 1861onwards. The below description of imitation pearl buttons was given in 1909, although it does not state if fish essence was used. There were other methods being used by that date, such as as gelatine or cellulose soaked in various chemicals. However, these alternatives may have been unsatisfactory, as fish-scale essence continued to be used.

The World’s News (Sydney), 30th October 1909 p.3

The Queenslander (Brisbane), 7th June 1928 p.60

In 1957 the cost of real and ‘pearlised’ buttons were compared. The wholesale gross price was $2 for real MOP, $0.70 for polyester, and $0.45 for acrylic.

Pacific Islands Monthly, 1st January 1957 p.67

It was noted that, particularly for larger buttons, no synthetic gave an adequate imitation of black-edged MOP shell, guaranteeing its continued use for high quality fashions.

  In the modern era,  plastic buttons coated with the essence  were described in the National Button Bulletin in January 1948. G.Herring and General Plastics advertised them from around 1952-54.


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